Friday, 3 July 2015

The Post-Event Post

Last night we had one of our ladies events, and today I am bleary eyed! When you don't close the shop doors until after 11pm you have to take this as a good result! So, what do we do at these events? Laugh, drink tea, eat cake, read and discuss books.  If you couldn't join us, here's what we discussed...

We kicked off with a quote from Sinful Speech by John Flavel (one of the pocket puritan series):
How long does an idle word, or foolish jest, stick in men's minds, and become an occasion of much sin to them?  The froth and vanity of your spirit, which your tongue so freely vents among your vain companions, may be working in their minds when you are in the dust, and so be transmitted from one to another.
Hard hitting and to the point - but that's the Puritans for you. 'I need that' was the immediate cry from one of the ladies, and it was quickly snapped up.

Next book up was First Wives' Club by Clare Heath-Whyte.  The history buff present was very enthusiastic about this book - well written by another history buff, it draws lessons from the lives of 6 sixteenth century women.  With points for Bible Study at the end of each chapter, it could prove useful for ladies meetings?

We talked about the new book by Courtney Reissig called The Accidental Feminist. This takes a look at how feminism has become so prevalent in our culture that many of us have imbibed the feminist principles without question and need to re-examine the Biblical roles for womanhood.  One of the ladies was concerned that it was being counter-cultural for the sake of it.  Only having read half of it I couldn't really answer that one, but someone bought it so we're hoping for a full review next time!

A provocative quote from A Woman's Wisdom started off some more discussion...
The wild fluctuation of hormones at certain times may challenge our tolerance of others or depress our outlook, but nowhere does the Bible gives us a hormonal pass on the call to kindness, patience, contentment, joy and love.
A collective intake of breath while everyone counted to ten... and then admitted that perhaps they had at times failed on that one. The author of this book, Lydia Brownback has also written a series of smaller books On the Go Devotionals, which many of the ladies had read, so interest grew for A Woman's Wisdom, which is a more in depth look at Proverbs. Perhaps Miss Brownback had a point!

Spurgeon's Sorrows by Zack Eswine was another popular choice - with many Spurgeon lovers present and a very enthusiastic reviewer of this book who highly recommends it to all who suffer depression and their carers ('and anyone else in fact').  Spurgeon suffered severe bouts of depression throughout his life but always viewed it as a precursor to greater blessing.  To encourage he says...
Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace; the very loss of joy and the absence of assurance may be accompanied by the greatest advancement in the spiritual life... we do not want rain all the days of the week, and all the weeks of the year; but if the rain comes sometimes, it makes the fields fertile, and fills the waterbrooks.
Awaiting a Saviour by Aaron Armstong, was another that sparked off some discussion.  Poverty and sin - what is the relationship between them?  Aaron very firmly asserts that poverty is in the world because of sin, not the sin of the poor people, but original sin. The discussion ranged over a few topics, but eventually the lady who didn't like the sound of the book, bought the book to give Aaron a fair hearing - I look forward to finding out if he persuaded her to change her mind!

Now, I am not one for verbal diarrhoea, but I have been accused many-a-time of written diarrhoea so let me wrap this up!  Just quickly, some of the other books that we were discussing were...
Far Above Rubies - Lynette Clark
A Little Bird Told Me - Timothy Cross
Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full - Gloria Furman
To Honour God - The Spirituality of Oliver Cromwell - Michael Haykin
When World's Collide - R C Sproul

Whet anyone's appetite?

Thursday, 18 June 2015

First Wives' Club

Twenty-first century lessons from the lives of sixteenth century women.
This book belongs to an exclusive club in itself - at least as engineered by the publisher - it is designed and jacketed in such a feminine manner as to cause any man to feel rather intrusive in daring to peep between its covers. But in defiance of this I determined to brave all to see what kind of lessons were being given and what standard of historical analysis was being relied upon for deriving them. I had a pleasant surprise. The author is a robust historian - the blurb declares her as a prize winner at Cambridge University - and she serves it up effortlessly. Among the six women she studies from Reformation Europe she has boldly chosen three who are relative unknowns. Who has heard of Katharina Zell or Argula von Grumbach for instance? Perhaps the scanty historical information in these cases is pressed too far and hence the lessons contrived, but it is good to be introduced to them. Of course the danger with historical lessons is that we judge people by today's standards and assume that our values are superior. However this book is birthed in the belief that we live in a post-Christian society and determines to be counter-cultural. The women of 500 years ago are looked to as role models because of the biblical mindedness which was fundamental to the Reformation. That shapes the view that a woman's role is not one of ecclesiastical leadership but complementary to the man's role. And this is not necessarily the traditional one despised of feminists. We witness variation in the sixteenth century due to circumstances in family, health, persecution, the nature and place of a husband's ministry, etc. In all these cases the women faithfully studied to understand and apply the teaching of scripture. This is the message being communicated to the women of today. It deserves a hearing and I believe men need to listen in too. We all should be inspired to build our lives on the Word of God.
'First Wives' Club' by Clare Heath-Whyte, p/b, 10Publishing, £7.99.
In addition to the two ladies already mentioned, Katie Luther, Anna Zwingli, Wibrandis Rosenblatt and Idelette Calvin make up the club.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Far Above Rubies

This is a biography that many will consider long overdue.  Apart from Bethan Lloyd-Jones' own 'Memories of Sandfields', there is little known about the woman who supported the well known D Martyn Lloyd-Jones through his years of influential pastoral ministry.  Interviews with the Lloyd-Jones' daughters and access to letters written by and to Bethan have made this biography well researched and full of anecdotes. 
Bethan was by all accounts a remarkable woman, a strong character who initially clashed with the man she later came to marry. Interestingly, she was truly converted only after their marriage and under the ministry of her husband, and this changed her legalistic 'Christian' ways to a life that was lived through love to the Lord and to others around her. She was clearly an independent thinker and neither she nor Martyn followed tradition for tradition's sake. This is notable in her efforts as a pastor's wife and as a parent.  Bethan did though have her difficulties: one that came through clearly was her struggles with anxiety.  This was a particular problem for her in the area of travel, and also in illness.  However, it is evident that she was brought to find peace through trusting in God in these matters.

Indeed, there are many spiritual and practical lessons to be learnt from this account and the author is particularly skillful in drawing these out.  To further this end there has been added a 'Questions for Reflection' section at the back of the book.  This gives a number of questions exploring the subjects and spiritual lessons that can be learnt from each chapter. These would be ideal to use as prompts in a group setting. Additionally there are also helpful Appendices giving further pertinent information related to each chapter.
Overall, Far Above Rubies is a fascinating insight into the life of a woman who played a hugely important supporting role in the life of 'the doctor'.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn't) @bondbooks

This book is a surprise. Douglas Bond is a greatly appreciated author, but what is he doing dabbling in theological issues? Historical fiction yes, but a defence of the gospel seems rather out of his province. Indeed we learn in the foreword that he questioned this himself when the idea for the book was birthed: 'I'm a storyteller, not a theologian. If this book needs writing so much, leave it to the experts.' But that is precisely the dimension that gives this book its usefulness. He has the flair to connect. And he does it on an important subject, which must not be allowed to be caught up into the ivory towers of the 'experts'. The matter of concern is 'law creep'. This is the term describing a subtle activity of the Devil in every generation to pollute the pure doctrine of the gospel. He works to undermine confidence in free grace within the church of Jesus Christ. How is this manifested? When preachers proclaim the 5 Solas of the Reformation, but then call the law in by the back door to disciple the converts. When imputed righteousness is treated as if it were a dangerous concept. When faithfulness to the covenant is a teaching directed at man, not God, and drowns out the call to faith in Christ.
Bond demonstrates law creep from church history. He shows that no denomination has been free from its corrupting tendency. Everyone asserts that this is an issue in other churches, or for other families, but not for them. And this is the way law creep spreads - no one sees the beam in their own eye. Bond also presents the results from a tour he has undertaken of a spread of churches. Without mentioning names he supplies and analyses key sermon quotes, acting as a watchdog, vigilant but not scathing. He further engages with the radical language of the Apostle Paul in Romans - if this were not in the Bible would it not be condemned in many churches as unsafe? Free grace = cheap grace = loose living. But this is the conclusion Paul is denying. Grace does not lead to ungodliness, not because of the safeguards of the law, but because of the sanctifying effect of love in the heart.
Douglas Bond is definitely not an innovator or a 'new calvinist'. He roots his concerns in Reformation confessions. He is just concerned (as John Newton) that self righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works. In other words, 'correct' churches can harbour works righteousness as much as those where free will and man's doings are rampant.
As a lover of hymns, one very telling point Bond makes is that free will theology cannot be put to music. Isaac Watts could write soaring lyrics concerning the sovereign love of God, but words about the choice of man never get off the ground. In proof, Appendix B contains Bond's humorous attempt at such a hymn.
Each chapter closes with discussion questions in true American fashion. Note that this is not a slim book, and one criticism would be that he has spun out his tale too long. But it is easily read (although the issue makes for uncomfortable reflections).
Grace Works! by Douglas Bond, large p/b, published by P & R Publishing 2014. Price £9.99.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Forty Years in the Wilderness

'The Autobiography of an early Australian Baptist' is how the book is described - but John Chandler started life as an English one! As a young man he emigrated to Australia with his parents and (a fascinating social study) a group of members from a Strict and Particular Baptist chapel in Brighton. He goes on to give a rare firsthand description of the life of an 'ordinary' settler in the State of Victoria in the mid-1800s. Its value is demonstrated in that, though it was left to gather dust by Particular Baptists, it was rediscovered by secular historian Michael Cannon in 1990 and published out of historical interest. He however had no understanding of Chandler's religion and his lack of sympathy for it resulted in drastic editorial work. But at least, although with limitations, this honest and interesting account of the hardships and fortitude of the early white Australians was made public once again.
Those of us who have known of Chandler's book since the 1990s have long looked forward to a time when it might be published again in full, and his faith revealed in addition to his adventures. Gospel Standard Trust Publications (GS) have obliged at last, and with the input of considerable research, brought out a new and complete edition. The original book was scarce but came in two forms. They had different endings. It seems there was a 'diplomatic' version, glossing over some awkward aspects of contemporary church affairs, and also a longer no holds barred version! The new edition contains both endings and also supplies copious footnotes to provide explanations and contexts for many of Chandler's geographical and historical references, which otherwise would be lost on today's readers - especially English ones.
A foreword has been written by Annette Seymour, who is the wife of the current pastor of Zion Chapel, Hawthorn (a suburb of Melbourne) which Chandler was instrumental in founding. This aspect of the book is fascinating to students of Baptist beginnings and beliefs in Australia, but it is disappointing that the GS edition's footnotes give limited attention to it in comparison to the amount of detail provided on secular Australian history. For John Chandler was emphatically a Particular Baptist; his own striking experience of the sovereign grace of God led him to this conclusion. Indeed it is noteworthy that his Calvinistic theology was not an aberration - it had underpinned the labours of Henry Dowling, the founder of the first Baptist church formed in Australia in 1835. For more on him and Australia's Particular Baptist heritage refer to my five part Ryde Rediscovery Series. Ultimately, however, this is not a book of history or theology but a simple autobiography told in a compelling way, and it may be read with profit and pleasure by all ages from teenage years upwards.
'Forty Years in the Wilderness', by John Chandler, published by Gospel Standard Trust Publications, hardback, 288 pp including colour photos and other illustrations. Price £12 - very reasonable indeed.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Freedom from the Law

William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Particular Baptist preacher and hymn writer, for many years the beloved pastor of Rochdale Road Baptist chapel, Manchester. His vigorous gospel ministry brought him into inevitable conflict, especially his maintaining that as the gospel proclaims forgiveness of sins through Christ, and deliverance from the condemnation of the holy Law of God, believers are 'dead to the law' (Galatians 2:19). This, Gadsby stated, means that they are "in no sense whatever under it." Such a statement was seized on by his protagonists, already stirred up by his strong emphasis on the sovereign grace of God. To the charge of hyper-calvinist they now added the opprobrious term of antinomian - lawless. Andrew Fuller weighed in against him, and others including John Stevens, who otherwise was in sympathy with his theology.
Until now Gadsby's defence of his position has been locked up in the collated two volume 'Works of William Gadsby', printed by his son John Gadsby in 1851. This was never reprinted in full and is now scarce on the secondhand book market. CBO Publications have therefore rendered a valuable service in drawing together Gadsby's writings on the Law, which filled most of Volume One of his Works. This has been published as a 576 pp paperback 'Freedom from the Law', retailing for a modest £9.95. The editor has rearranged the articles - including 'The Perfect Law of Liberty' and 'The Gospel the Believer's Rule of Conduct' - into a more logical order, and included appendices containing the publications of his opponents which are referred to. It is worthy of note that Gadsby's articles are reprinted from their latest unedited editions published during his lifetime, thus avoiding John Gadsby's editorial pen. It accounts for cross-referenced page numbers being different from those found in Volume One of his Works. This however is a minor difficulty and overall the new format is welcome.
The subject of the Christian's relationship to the Law is still a live and hotly debated one in Reformed and Evangelical circles today. The Apostle Paul said 'we establish the law' (Romans 3:31) - but the question is, how and in what way? Is it by reassigning it to a role in governing Christian obedience, or in reaffirming it as the perfectly holy standard which exposes sin? The one view asserts its continuity in sanctification, the other its completion at justification. Gadsby is very clear as to where he stood on this vexed question and he strongly urged the point that the Law has been fulfilled by Christ on behalf of his people, so delivering them from its piercing claims. Justified by faith, believers are freed - not into a moral vacuum, but in fact to begin to 'live unto God' (Galatians 2:19). With spiritual wisdom, and a pastoral heart, Gadsby keeps to the main points, avoiding the many pitfalls that dot this doctrinal battleground. It was no mere intellectual contest for him; he wrote of what he had experienced for himself of Romans 8:2, and he knew that tender consciences in his congregations needed assurance and not disturbance with a revived Law. He is as equally Christ exalting in his aim in these writings on the Law as in his hymn compositions - the most well known today being 'Immortal Honours'.
This is not a book for philosophers; not every detail is pinned down, but it is a notable contribution to the subject, and more importantly, a spiritually profitable read.

Freedom from the Law by William Gadsby, CBO Publications, £9.95

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Reading Together - our online ladies reading club

The time has come for our ladies online reading club to start a new book so I am canvassing for new members (you can tell an election's coming!).  We are starting on Krummacher, the well known F W Krummacher who wrote the popular books 'Elijah the Tishbite', 'Elisha a Prophet for our Times' and 'The Suffering Saviour'.  The book we have chosen is not so well known - 'Christ and His People' is an exposition of  Christ's life and the beginnings of his Church here on earth.  Krummacher writes in his typically colourful and highly devotional style and there is much thought provoking application. Anyone ladies keen to read something that might be a bit tougher than most books they would naturally pick up, with gentle support and encouragement along the way should get in touch with me.  The online reading club is run as a member's only blog, our members vary from old to young (it's all relative!) and are spread around the world so don't think you won't fit in - we would love to have new members, it all helps add to the discussions!